Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

When coincidence becomes co-existence

I believe in “Lo be Mikreh” it means “not by chance” everything is meant to be. Call it a “Jewish” way of thinking, it had to start somewhere maybe written in the Bible or spoken by the sages?

So many things  that have happened during my lifetime especially at times of stress and indecision have proven over and over those choices in hindsight have been timely and as they say”for the best”

So my experiences of the last few days have been memorable and enjoyable but ultimately fulfiling and inspiring.

Only a few weeks back a  vibrant woman asked if she could interview me about my life. She is researching lives of multiple women who live in our region. She came to hear about a young woman who made her choice to come to Israel in 1949 and the old women I have become,

Subsequently, she informed me that she would be a speaker at a conference to be held in Brussels at. the EU Parliament.She suggested that I might care to attend.I looked at the invite and saw that indeed not one but three people whom I knew were also on the panel.

On October 22nd I took a taxi to Ben Gurion for my flight to Brussels.

My Gett taxi driver was a charming man from Jaffa and we got talking about old times and family and he told me that unlike me he was born on this land. He has four daughters and a young son. Three of his daughters are studying medicine in different fields. He is very proud of his family and loves this land as do I.

On arriving at Brussels airport I jumped into a cab which dropped me to the cheap hotel which I had booked on the advice of a friend. I took one look inside and went into shock. I know about B and B. When we returned to the UK with three young kids in the 60’s force of circumstance resulted in me and my little family owning and running a Bed and Breakfast Hotel in Kings Cross London. At the time, not a salubrious location but it gave us a new start.

In all my experience I had never seen a dump like this one. The New Galaxy, which is on this was the New Galaxy I dread to think what the OLD Galaxy was like!

I felt very vulnerable. Apart from the fact that it was unkempt and the reception desk was primitive in the extreme, the guy in charge who hardly spoke English and his French not perfect was as helpful as he could be. He gave me a key to a room on the third floor. I approached the lift as I could not carry my case up three floors and another guest or a friend who was milling around in the background with other characters going in and out of what I presumed to be a kitchen, said: “Don’t bother with the lift it is terribly slow”.

Needless to say said lift arrived and trundled me upstairs. There were toilets on the landing and I had the horrors thinking I would have to share one. In trepidation, I turned the key in the lock and was appalled at the accomodation. Nowhere to put my clothes except a dirty looking wardrobe without shelves and a tiny table with a grubby looking lamp on it, but not big enough to lay out cosmetics. Maybe the bathroom will be more accommodating I thought. The handheld shower was in the bath as its holder had fallen off the wall. The skirtings were supporting electrical wires in between which was grey fluff and dirt which had never been touched.The toilet had been cleaned with bleach.

I went down to the desk to ask if my friend had arrived and was told that she had gone. By which I understood that she was not coming back.

Outside it was getting dark and  I noticed gaudy signs which indicated that I was on the edge of the “RedLight” district.I had seen some couples booking into my hotel which confirmed my suspicions, after all, I had many years of experience in Kings Cross.

Fortunately, my friends a mother and daughter who live in Brussels and had stayed with me in Israel some time ago, were on the way to collect me to take me to dinner. All I could say when they arrived was “Help, take me out of here, I cannot spend four days alone here I am terrified”.

Well, this time, my “Lo be Mikrei” was timely and as a result of their quick intervention which included the daughter giving me her room and making me more welcome than I could ever have imagined, I had the most wonderful tour of Brussels. Fascinating in the day exquisite at night an unforgettable visit to the Magritte Museum interspersed with a selection of gourmet delights. Friday night I organised Kabbalat Shabbat with the grandmother too, who told us that her grandmother had been Jewish.It was later disclosed that the granddaughter wanted to convert to Judaism.

On the morning of the Conference I was escorted to the European Parliament and as I had arrived early and it was quite chilly I looked for a place to eat and use the toilet. On the corner of the Square where the Parliament stands which is actually in a park I found a “Beer Factory”. As I entered the aroma of the rich Belgium cuisine invaded my nostrils and I knew that I had chosen the right place.After hot vegetable soup home baked bread and a beer…I was in Belgium after all, I went to find the welcoming officials and together we entered the Halls of Power.

I had noticed that there was a demonstration of LGTB’s taking place opposite and also saw a group of Native Indians leaving the Alterio Spinelli Building where the conference was taking place. The flags of every European country fluttering in the breeze and the column next to a building bearing Simone Weil’s name which bore an account of her life including her childhood during the Holocaust.Also her immense contribution to France and in particular to women’s issues in society all heightened my sense of history.My appreciation of the democratic western values which I had grown up with.

The event “Palestinians and Israelis moving towards need-based solutions” had been sponsored by EPMED, PATRIR, alde, S7D European Parliament.

There were speakers from Israel and Palestine and a smattering of European political figures bringing their points of view.I knew some of the speakers but the one who impressed me most was the Keynote Speaker Kai Frithof Brand -Jacobsen Director PATRIR -20017 Lux Peace prize.

He also summed up the conference.

He believes that since the EU is so involved economically with both Israel and Palestine they should raise the profile of their activities and if the environment will allow it, use leverage to bring both sides of the conflict back to the negotiating table.

Afterwards most of us went to a popular cafe and mixed with the organisers and facilitators of the conference. TheCo-Directorr of EPMED a delightful young man insisted on paying for my food and taking me to where I was staying.

This kind of event is meant for an exchange of ideas and to encourage real time involvement in issues of the human condition.

It’s the contacts that we make and follow up on, bringing those together whom maybe will never have met on equal ground that are important.

The next day Shabbat my hostess told me that she belongs to a singing group and as this was the day that they would be “Singing for Peace”  for an international day of song, she invited me along.

Again “lobemikrei” I met people from several countries including two lovely Morrocan sisters whose song in arabic added to those in English,French,Spanish,German and even Hebrew. I was asked to translate a verse of one of the songs and we ended singing”Heveinu Shalom Aleichem.

Laila and Sara told me that only the previous evening they had been to see “Disturbing the Peace “at an International Film Festival. They asked me how they could contact Combatants for Peace and said they would visit Israel to take part in activities of Women Wage Peace.

I felt very welcome and proud to be the Israeli in the circle.

The last day was spent sight seeing and my favourite occupation browsing in the Flea Markets. However as we passed by the beautiful cafes and stores in the area near to the Grandes Palace I noticed how many homeless people were sleeping on mattresses in doorways only steps away from a world of wealth and luxury.

AS Leonard Cohen wrote:

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

Let’s hope that the kindling of that light will permeate the world.

I have invited everyone I met to come to Israel.

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.